By Anayo Okoli
For about two years now, Abia State has been infested with aÂ serious problem that has given both the government and the entire people sleepless nights. That single problem is kidnaping.
This problem started like a childâ€™s play but has rapidly grown intoÂ a big problem, in fact, a monster that seems to have so far defied solution. The state government has put in a lot of resources to fight this, yet it looks like nothing is happening.
The problem continues, increasingly, assuming more dangerous dimension every passing day. Many Abians and non_Abians living in the state have lost their lives in the hands of these deadlyÂ Â hoodlums, who not only extort money from the people through demand for ransom, but also kill at willÂ .
Government and security agencies efforts at fighting this menace have so far not paid much dividend.
However, recent development in the state has shown that the efforts have not paid off simply because the perpetrators are within and close to government and the grassroots; that is the involvement of traditional rulers in the illicit, criminal and bloody lucrative business.
It sounds funny and unbelievable that traditional rulers would be involved in the business of kidnaping in the state, but it was real.
Last weekâ€™s sack of two traditional rulers by Governor Theodore Orji on account of their alleged involvement in kidnapping showed how deep the problem is. The sacked traditional rulers are Eze Rueben Nwaorgu of Ihe-Iyi autonomous community in Ugwunagbo council area and Eze Emmanuel Oforji of Isi-Obehie autonomous community in Ukwa West council. They were alleged to be aiding and abetting kidnapping.
Their alleged involvement has confirmed suspicion by both the government and the people that the business of kidnapping has the backing of some well placed people, including some unscrupulous traditional rulers and perhaps other prominent members of the society. Little wonder why these hoodlums carry out the criminal acts with impunity, because they have the backing of powerful individuals.
Government to be blamed
In the case of Abia State the government has some substantial share of blame to bear on the activities of some unscrupulous royal fathers.
The government had in the past, perhaps in a bid to score cheap political points, created numerous autonomous communities and appointed traditional rulers, many of them known 419ers and people of questionable character, in fact charlatans.Â Some of these Ezes( traditional rulers) are today causing the society move harm than good.
Traditional rulers in Igbo land are revered and respected because of their sincerity and uprightness, people with credibility. But government in a fast lane to gain political influence had changed this. In fact, some of the appointments are till today causing problems in some communities that protested abinito the appointment of some the Ezes due to their past records.
In his effort to fight crime, especially kidnapping, and in realization of the role royal fathers supposed to play in providing security in their communities, Governor Orji had called several meetings with where he preached and even issued threats against Ezes who harbour criminals, especially kidnappers, which has caused the government more embarrassment than any other problems.
Ezeâ€™s suspect themselves
In one of the meetings held recently, shortly before the sack of the two Ezes, the Governor alleged that some royal fathers were alleged to be harbouring criminals, especially kidnappers in their domain. One of the prominent monarchs in the state, octogenarian Eze Isaac Ikonne of Aba, challenged him to call the names of such Ezes. He challenged the governor to mention his name if he is involved in the criminal act, that he should not spare any of them.
Eze Ikonneâ€™s even went the extra mile to narrate before the gathering how a fellow Eze sent him a threatening text message when he challenged the said Eze on alleged criminal activities. The monarch even promised to show the text message to the governor if need be.
Ezes are also targets of kidnappers
Ironically, royal fathers have been targets of these kidnappers. An Eze and his wife were killed when their palace in Abala community is Obingwa council area was attacked and set on fire. The slain Eze was said to be against crime in his domain.
Another royal father in Osisioma council area was recently reportedly kidnapped and killed. It therefore becomes a big puzzle why traditional rulers should be reluctant to fight kidnapping when any of them could be a victim.
Government weilds the big stick
However, shortly after the last meeting with the monarchs, Governor Theodore Orji took a drastic action when he dethroned the two Ezes, for their alleged involvement in criminal activities. According to the government, the sacked Ezes constituted a clog in its crime fighting programme.
Orji warned that more Ezes may be sacked as currently some royal fathers are being investigated on their alleged criminal activities, and if food culpable will be dethroned. This goes to show that many more traditional rulers are involved in these criminal acts.
A situation where a traditional ruler, hold in high esteem and who ought to be a custodian of peace, love and security in his community, offers his palace as a detention camp for kidnapped victims, is sad and condemnable.
The government should not only dethrone such Eze but should go ahead to try him in line with the state law on kidnapping which prescribes death for offenders. Only such action will tell the Ezes that the game is actually over. Sacking and replacing them is not enough.
Other areas to look at
In its aggressive fight against criminals, especially kidnapping, government should beam its searchlight on some novel riche, the â€œover_night millionairesâ€, and some top security operatives, especially in the police force. Perhaps more good results could be achieved. Again, in this all_important fight, Abia State Government should also turn attention to the activities of drug peddlers and barons.
They exist in the state, especially in Aba, the commercial capital of the state. This much was confirmed by the state command of NDLEA. The state commander of the agency, Mrs. Florence Dan â€“Archibong, indeed linked the upsurge in violent crime such as armed robbery and kidnapping in the state to high consumption and trafficking of hard drugs.
Linking high crime rate in the state to high hard drug consumption and trafficking, NDLEA said: â€œYou are aware that Abia State is admired for its commerce and great entrepreneurs that have contributed significantly to the economy of our country.
On the other hand, Abia State has acquired the notoriety as the highest hard drug consuming and trafficking State East of the Niger. The barons have ensured the ready availability of hard drugs not only in Abia but also in the five neighbouring States of Imo, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River and Bayelsa.
This has led to the upsurge in violent crimes such as armed robbery and kidnapping in the State. Cocaine and Heroin have become common drugs of abuse with arrest and seizure recorded in all the Local Government Areas of the State. New drug joints are springing up everyday where criminal activities are planned, perfected and executed.
Some streets in Aba such as York and Park have turned into no_go area for decent law abiding residents of Aba as unscrupulous miscreants have turned them into ghettos and haven for hard drugs.
â€œOur citadels of higher learning in the State are gradually been taken over by the drug scourge. Even the Secondary school students and primary school pupils are not left out, as their schools are turned into drug joints everydayâ€. NDLEA lamented.
However, many of the royal fathers are worried over the involvement of their colleagues in crimes.
Chairman of Abia State traditional rulers council, Eze Hope Onuigbo has condemned it and has always called on his colleagues to assist the government in the fight against crimes. He has always reminded them of their role as the chief security officers in their domain.
Also, Eze John Akamiro had long before the government began to act mobilized his fellow Ezes in the old Bende area of the state, to fight against kidnapping. He led a delegation of royal fathers from the area to visit some prominent Ezes from Ngwa land to discuss the matter.
Much as these efforts by government and other people will assist, the public are waiting to see when the kidnap suspects will be tried and punished in accordance with the law on kidnapping.
The state police command, almost on weekly basis, announce the arrest of a number of kidnap suspects, why none has been tried and convicted is the big the question.
Until this is done the kidnappers will believe that government is just joking.